After the downfall of the Axumite Kingdom in the 12th century the Zagwe Dynasty developed in the highlands of Lalibela, southeast of Axum.
Once the flourishing and populous capital city of a medieval dynasty, the passing centuries have reduced Lalibela to a village.
It is practically invisible from the road below against a horizon dominated by the 4,200-metre peak of Mount Abuna Yosef.
Even close-up it seems wholly unremarkable. However, it is this camouflaged, chameleon quality that gives the remote settlement its special and enduring place in the life of the highlands - some 800 years ago, safe from the prying eyes and plundering hands of hostile interlopers, a noble king fashioned a secret marvel.
previously known as Roha, is named after king Lalibela himself at the
end of 12th century. Lalibela is considered to be a New Jerusalem. At
that time a pilgrimage to the real Jerusalem was not really possible.
The Lalibela churches, however, silence the most cynical pedants.
Close examination is required to appreciate the full extent of the achievement because, like medieval mysteries, much effort has been made to cloak their nature in mystery. Some lie almost completely hidden in deep trenches, while others stand in open quarried caves.
A complex and bewildering labyrinth of tunnels and narrow passageways with offset crypts, grottoes and galleries connects them all - a cool, lichen- enshrouded, subterranean world, shaded and damp, silent but for the faint echoes of distant footfalls as priests and deacons go about their timeless service
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